Piece by piece, the University of Georgia's possible dream season was dismantled and ultimately demolished by a much hungrier, more athletic, far superior South Carolina Gamecock squad in Columbia last night.
This was supposed to be the year that a young, hungry Bulldogs team, led by the SEC's best quarterback and a ferocious defensive front, made it to back to the Georgia Dome, just 70 miles down the road, this time to conquer the best the SEC West had to offer and play for a national championship.
Instead, it's heartbreak again for Bulldog Nation, after the Bulldogs endured a vicious, swift thrashing from the hands of a heated rival and head coach that Georgia fans love to loathe. This shell-shocker will not be forgotten or forgiven anytime soon.
After Saturday night's devastating loss, it's impossible to not contemplate the future of Mark Richt's tenure as Georgia football boss and whether he is the right man to lead the program. In many ways, Richt is a great coach—as evidence by his stellar .740 winning percentage.
What matters, however, is that Georgia has been unable to win the really big games, which have plagued Richt's reign as HC of this storied football program. Last year, Georgia lost every big game that actually mattered.
First the season opener, which was a de facto home game, against Boise State at the Georgia Dome, then the following weekend in Athens against a good-but-not-great South Carolina team, and ultimately an embarrassing, sloppy game in the Outback Bowl to Michigan State.
Last night, in what appeared coming in to be a winnable game against a top-10 team, the Bulldogs were thoroughly dominated in every facet of the contest, once again running conservative, predictable plays even after being buried by more than 20 points.
Should Mark Richt remain Georgia's football coach following the 2012 season?
The Richt defenders can continue backing their man by saying last night's loss is largely the fault of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and his questionable 3-4 defense. That would be foolish. Even former defensive coordinator Willie Martinez deserved better treatment than that.
Look closer to see that Georgia's seemingly unstoppable offense was nowhere to be found at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Aaron Murray, perhaps on his way to a late-season Heisman run, could get nothing going against a South Carolina defense that may not be far behind Alabama for the nation's best. The Georgia running game was completely thwarted, turned back over and over again.
Not to give the defense a reprieve, but the Dawgs were run over by the powerful Gamecock running game and repeatedly pinned back deep onto their defending side of the field. The defensive line looked vulnerable, and from the get go, the secondary looked porous, allowing a deep reception on the first drive of the game on a play that should have resulted in an interception.
In hindsight, it makes a piece like this look positively laughable and not exactly a portend of what occurred on the gridiron Saturday night. Timely defense? Georgia's was anything but, and for all of the talent and All-Americans on that side of the ball, Georgia's D looked like a bottom-of-the pack SEC squad against the mighty Gamecocks.
As atrocious as the all-around effort was, you can't pin the penalties and hyper-conservative play calling on anyone other than Mark Richt. Just like the horrible penalties and conservative play calls that have crippled this team for the past several years are on him.
Just like the numerous suspensions, arrests and player dismissals are on him.
There comes a point where 18- and 19-year-old young men should be held accountable for their actions, yet how come this program, at this fine university, continues to struggle with student-athlete issues and poor conduct problems?
Between being besieged by awful penalties, far too conservative play-calling in 3rd-and-8 type situations and just not being able to win the games that truly matter—is it time to call Mark Richt's job security into question?
I believe it is.
For a long time there, it seemed that the powers-that-be in the fancy offices of the Butts-Mehre athletic department building on the University of Georgia campus would never run Richt out of Athens because he's a great, classy guy and represents the program so well.
Not to mention, Mark Richt and the UGA football program practically print money, and the university remains one of the richest athletic departments in the country. Yet one huge loss after another have helped to precipitate what could be the end of Mark Richt's run in Athens.
Make no mistake, Mark Richt is a winner and, by all accounts, a truly wonderful human being. The man appears to be a model citizen, virtuous and a hard worker. Guess what? So are a lot of people.
In the uber-competitive world of SEC football, a head coach just flat-out has to win the games against top-10 teams when they come his way. Even Gene Chizik was able to do so just two short years ago on the plains in Auburn.
Another example of a SEC program (four to be exact) that has won the ultimate prize while Georgia has come up empty-handed during Richt's tenure.
Mark Richt has won a lot of football games. But in the past several seasons, including Georgia's last truly great season in 2007, in the big games, Richt has failed repeatedly to emerge victorious.
So for all of Richt's high winning percentage, great program representation and success, it may be high time to hand the keys over to a better man for the job to finally help UGA get over the hump in these really huge games.
Richt will always deliver big-time recruiting classes, the occasional BCS game and offenses that deliver big performances more weekends than not. But to say that the Dawgs are on the same level, after all of these years, with the likes of Alabama, LSU and Florida would be delusional.
Georgia is a second-tier SEC team that, in reality, is not even in the same league as South Carolina right now, much less Alabama. So, for all of Mark Richt's gaudy .740 winning percentage and the loads of cash that keep pouring into the UGA athletic department coffers, Bulldog Nation has to keep living with crushing losses in the biggest games on the schedule.
How much more can Georgia fans take?
Perhaps the more apropos question for now is, how many more chances will Mark Richt be given?